Obituary: The Rev Harry Bagnall
Friday 23 January 1998
Harry Bagnall, a quiet-spoken, mild-mannered Yorkshireman, demonstrated his strength of character and compassion when confronted with the 1982 Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands. He was then Anglican Minister at the most southerly cathedral in the world, Christchurch in Port Stanley.
He and his wife, Iris, could have been evacuated, or gone to live in comparative safety on a Falklands farm. Their faith unshaken, they stayed in Stanley to comfort the sick and elderly and give reassurance in what had become a war zone.
When his fellow Yorkshireman the Governor, Sir Rex Hunt, was deported and other leading personalities were under house arrest, he and his Roman Catholic colleague, Monsignor Daniel Spraggon, took on the task of raising islanders' grievances with the Argentine generals. In their clerical grey and priestly black, they were conspicuous figures in streets dominated by military uniforms and emplacements as they defied the curfew on their errands of mercy through shot and shell.
Bagnall resisted the use of the cathedral for military purposes and insisted that British ensigns hanging there should not be taken down. The first weekend of the invasion was Palm Sunday and Harry Bagnall used a Falkland plant known as "diddle-dee" to make a Palm Sunday cross which he and many islanders wore throughout the occupation as a "symbol of unity". The crowded cathedral congregations continued to sing the National Anthem.
He retired three years ago from his last post as Vicar of Hook, in Sheffield, serving there 10 years, only a few miles from where he began his ministry as a curate in Goole in 1967 after his Southwark Ordination Course. He returned with his wife to the Falkland Islands in 1992, with Margaret Thatcher and military commanders, for the 10th anniversary of the invasion, invited as a guest by the islanders in appreciation of what Sir Rex Hunt was to call his sterling service and selfless bravery.
He got the job as Falklands Rector through a Church Times advertisement which insisted the applicant must be able to "de-bog a Land-Rover, cut up his own meat [there were no butchers in the islands then], and grow vegetables". The unusual political and religious circumstances of the Falkland Islands gave the Anglican and Roman Catholic churchmen a unique status, directly answerable to the heads of their respective religions - the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope in Rome, rather than their regional bishops in Buenos Aires.
Both were appointed OBE and Bagnall wrote a book about his experiences, Faith Under Fire (1983), which he autographed for me with a reference to the 23rd Psalm: ". . . though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death". Harry Bagnall did this more than once. As a young man, serving in the police, the Army and the meat trade, he almost died from tuberculosis. And he fought his last battle against stomach cancer with characteristic fortitude and good humour.
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